Asthma and Allergies

3 things you might not know about childhood asthma

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

For children with asthma and their parents, it’s important to understand what the symptoms mean and why a proper diagnosis matters, so that the right treatment can be prescribed for each child.

Is there a way to lower the cost of an EpiPen?

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Contributor

The lifesaving medication contained in an EpiPen is not expensive; the high cost is due mainly to the injector. Competing devices have not been successful so far, and no generic alternative is yet available. Finding ways to mandate that insurance fully cover the medication may not really bring the price down.

When do you really need antibiotics for that sinus infection?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

Many people with sinus infections expect to be given antibiotics for treatment, but in most cases the infection will improve on its own. If a person’s symptoms meet certain criteria — for example, when colorful nasal discharge and facial pressure and pain last for more than 10 days — then antibiotics are recommended.

Fewer allergies: A possible upside of thumb sucking and nail biting

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

It’s no surprise that children suck their thumbs or bite their nails. These behaviors are often discouraged, as they can go on to cause damaged teeth, infections, or even elicit teasing from other children. However, a new study suggests that there are benefits for children who exhibit these behaviors, as it makes their immune systems better at attacking germs and decreases their risk of developing common allergies. Although these habits may be irritating for parents, they may improve your child’s health in the long run.

4 “must dos” for kids with seasonal allergies

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many children look forward to the warm, mild spring weather — but kids with seasonal allergies (also known as hay fever) might not. Hay fever can interfere with a child’s ability to play outdoors and enjoy the change of seasons, and it can just plain make them feel miserable, too. We’ve listed four tips to help your child cope with allergy season — and they work just as well for adults, too.

The latest on a simple way to help prevent food allergies in kids

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Pediatricians used to recommend that parents hold off on giving their children foods that commonly cause allergic reactions — peanuts, eggs, seafood, wheat — for the first few years of the child’s life. We now know that was bad advice. Recent studies have shown that giving these foods very early in life is perfectly safe — and that it actually decreases a child’s risk for some food allergies.

Don’t judge your mucus by its color

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many people still think the color or consistency of nasal discharge determines whether you have a sinus infection. The truth is that anything that irritates the nose’s delicate lining — whether a virus, bacterium, or allergen — can result in any color or consistency of discharge. In fact, viruses are the most common cause of sinus infections, meaning you shouldn’t run to your doctor based on your mucus color alone.

Dissolvable tablets don’t work for people with severe allergies to grass pollen

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

People with allergies to grass pollen may have cheered last year when the FDA approved a no-needles treatment —a daily tablet you dissolve under your tongue. These tables deliver low doses of grass pollen to the bloodstream. This is done to “teach” the immune system not to wage war on grass pollen. It turns out that these tablets don’t work that well. An analysis of 13 controlled clinical trials indicates that dissolvable tablets are only slightly more effective than placebos in curtailing classic symptoms of grass pollen allergy—runny nose, itchy eyes, and tickly throat. To make matters worse, more than 60% of people who used the tablets experienced irritating side effects.

Environmentally friendly inhalers double the cost for people with asthma

Jake Miller
Jake Miller, Contributing Editor

Environmentally friendly asthma inhalers may be good for the atmosphere, but they have nearly doubled what people with asthma are paying out of pocket for their inhalers. That’s the take-home message from a study led by Dr. Anupam Jena, an assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School and an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital. The findings were published online today in JAMA Internal Medicine. In 2008, the FDA banned a class of asthma inhalers that contained ozone-depleting propellants called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The switch to CFC-free inhalers has led to an average increase of $10 per inhaler prescription, which has effectively doubled their cost.

Children who eat peanuts at an early age may prevent peanut allergies

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Peanut allergies can cause severe and sometimes deadly allergic reactions. A new study holds out the possibility that peanuts themselves may prevent peanut allergies. An international team asked parents of infants who were prone to a peanut allergy to give their children a peanut-based snack called Bamba or peanut butter three times a week until age five. The parents of another group of peanut allergy-prone infants were asked to make sure their children didn’t eat any peanuts, peanut butter, or other peanut-based products until age five. The results were surprising and dramatic. A peanut allergy developed in 1.9% of children who ate Bamba or peanut butter, compared with 13.7% of those who didn’t eat peanuts. This new work suggests that preventing peanut allergies may be a possibility in the near future.